Microsoft fixes a zero-day – and two curious bugs that take the Secure out of Secure Boot

It’s Patch Tuesday Week (if you will allow us our daily pleonasm), and Microsoft’s updates include fixes for a number of security holes that the company has dubbed Critical, along with a zero-day fix, although the 0-day only gets a rating of Important.

The 0-day probably got away with not being Critical because it’s not an outright remote code execution (RCE) hole, meaning that it can’t be exploited by someone who hasn’t already hacked into your computer.

That one is CVE-2023-28252, an elevation of privilege (EoP) bug in the Windows Common Log File System Driver.

The problem with Windows EoP bugs, especially in drivers that are installed by default on every Windows computer, is that they almost always allow attackers with few or no significant access privileges to promote themselves directly to the SYSTEM account, giving them as-good-as total control over your computer.

Programs running as SYSTEM can typically: load and unload kernel drivers; install, stop and start system services; read and write most files on the computer; change existing access privileges; run or kill off other programs; spy on other programs; mess with secure parts of the registry; and much more.

Ironically, the Common Log File System (CLFS) is designed to accept and manage offical logging requests on behalf of any service or app on the computer, in an effort to ensure order, precision, consistency and security in official system-level record keeping.

Two high-scoring Critical holes

Two Critical bugs in particular grabbed our interest.

The first one is CVE-2023-21554, an RCE hole in the Microsoft Message Queue system, or MSMQ, a component that is supposed to provide a failsafe way for programs to communicate reliably, regardless of what sort of network connections exist between them.

The MSMQ service isn’t turned on by default, but in high-reliability back-end systems where regular TCP or UDP network messages are not considered robust enough, you might have MSMQ enabled.

(Microsoft’s own examples of applications that might benefit from MSMQ include financial processing services on e-commerce platforms, and airport bagage handling systems.)

Unfortunately, even though this bug isn’t in the wild, it received a rating of Critical and a CVSS “danger score” of 9.8/10.

Microsoft’s two-sentence bug description says simply:

To exploit this vulnerability, an attacker would need to send a specially crafted malicious MSMQ packet to a MSMQ server. This could result in remote code execution on the server side.

Based on the high CVSS score and what Microsoft didn’t mention in the above description, we’re assuming that attackers exploiting this hole wouldn’t need to be logged on, or to have gone through any authentication process first.

DHCP danger

The second Critical bug that caught our eye is CVE-2023-28231, an RCE hole in the Microsoft DHCP Server Service.

DHCP is short for dynamic host configuration protocol, and it’s used in almost all Windows networks to hand out network addresses (IP numbers) to computers that connect to the network.

This helps prevent two users from accidentally trying to use the same IP number (which would cause their network packets to clash with each other), as well as to keep track of which devices are connected at any time.

Usually, remote code execution bugs in DHCP servers are ultra-dangerous, even though DHCP servers generally only work on the local network, and not across the internet.

That’s because DHCP is designed to exchange network packets, as part of in its “configuration dance”, not merely before you’ve put in a password or before you’ve provided a username, but as the very first step of getting your computer online at the network level.

In other words, DHCP servers have to be robust enough to accept and reply to packets from unknown and untrusted devices, just to get your network to the point that it can start deciding how much trust to put in them.

Fortunately, however, this particular bug gets a slightly lower score than the aforementioned MSMQ bug (its CVSS danger level is 8.8/10) because it’s in a part of the DHCP service that’s only accessible from your computer after you’ve logged on.

In Microsoft’s words:

An authenticated attacker could leverage a specially crafted RPC call to the DHCP service to exploit this vulnerability.

Successful exploitation of this vulnerability requires that an attacker will need to first gain access to the restricted network before running an attack.

When Secure Boot is just Boot

The last two bugs that intrigued us were CVE-2023-28249 and CVE-2023-28269, both listed under the headline Windows Boot Manager Security Feature Bypass Vulnerability.

According to Microsoft:

An attacker who successfully exploited [these vulnerabilities] could bypass Secure Boot to run unauthorized code. To be successful the attacker would need either physical access or administrator privileges.

Ironically, the main purpose of the much-vaunted Secure Boot system is that it’s supposed to help you keep your computer on a strict and unwavering path from the time you turn it on to the point that Windows takes control.

Indeed, Secure Boot is supposed to stop attackers who steal your computer from injecting any booby-trapped code that could modify or subvert the initial startup process itself, a trick that’s known in the jargon as a bootkit.

Examples include secretly logging the keystrokes you type in when entering your BitLocker disk encryption unlock code (without which booting Windows is impossible), or sneakily feeding modified disk sectors into the bootloader code that reads in the Windows kernel so it starts up insecurely.

This sort of treachery is often referred to as an “evil cleaner” attack, based on the scenario that anyone with official access to your hotel room while you’re out, such as a traitorous cleaner, might be able to inject a bootkit unobtrusively, for example by starting up your laptop briefly from a USB drive and letting an automatic script do the dirty work…

…and then use a similarly quick and hands-off trick the next day to retrieve stolen data such as keystrokes, and remove any evidence that the bootkit was ever there.

In other words, Secure Boot is meant to keep a properly-encrypted laptop safe from being subverted – even, or perhaps especially, by a cybercriminal who has physical access to it.

So if we had a Windows computer for day-to-day use, we’d be patching these bugs as if they were Critical, even though Microsoft’s own rating is only Important.

What to do?

  • Patch now. With one zero-day already being exploited by criminals, two high-CVSS-score Critical bugs that could lead to remote malware implantation, and two bugs that could remove the Secure from Secure Boot, why delay? Just do it today!
  • Read the SophosLabs report that looks at this month’s patches more broadly. With 97 CVEs patched altogether in Windows itself, Visual Studio Code, SQL Server, Sharepoint and many other components, there are plenty more bugs that sysadmins need to know about.

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